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Deal With It

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Usually, Matt’s fine. It does all get a bit much sometimes, but he learnt to deal with it way back when. It’s all about pulling back at the right moment, just before it feels like the world’s going to swallow him whole. He’ll just stop concentrating for a few minutes - stop listening for the sound of sirens as well as being curious about the kid on the phone a couple of streets over. Stop guessing the material of the woman’s t-shirt as she walks past by feeling the motes that drift away from her. Stop tasting the air, and simply breathe instead.

But Matt doesn’t like shutting down. It feels too much like giving up, even if there’s nothing in particular that he’s trying to hold onto.

He knows, vaguely, that it’s a problem. ‘Unhealthy Mindsets’ is the title of a chapter that he remembers reading at some point, and ‘Give Yourself a Break’ was probably a subheading that his fingers had blithely skipped over.

It’s at times like this that he wishes he hadn’t. Or, at least, it's at times like this that he wishes he’d opted for a cab rather than the subway.

The first mistake he makes is to sit down - somehow the crush of bodies is worse when he’s just that much further removed from it. It means his other senses are working harder, trying to make up for the fact that he isn’t being smothered on every side by ensuring he can hear, taste, smell everything. Like that guy by the doors, one hand gripping the overhead railing. He’s wearing corduroy trousers and each tiny ridge is like a chasm overflowing with information that Matt can’t help processing. This is the third train he’s taken today, and he’s wiped his hands on his trousers since buying a corn dog from that stand near the bakery with the outdoor display. There’s loose change in his pocket - a couple of quarters - and spearmint gum stuck to the bottom of his faux-leather brogues.

Matt’s knuckles whiten as he twists his hands tightly around his cane. The woman next to him turns the page of her broadsheet paper so that it brushes against the back of his wrist, and he flinches. Someone - a kid, adolescent, got on at the last stop - bites into a baguette that has more mayo in it than tuna, and everyone thrums with the movement of the train. Matt imagines he can feel his bones rattling beneath his skin, and suddenly he wants to hunch over. Needs to make himself smaller, just for a minute, so that everything can shrink with him and become a tiny point of sensation that he can pin beneath his thumb and hold there.

He gets off at the next stop and walks the rest of the way back to his apartment, even though his cane keeps almost slipping from his grasp and his breathing is becoming embarrassingly erratic, to the point where anyone might notice...

He should call Foggy. Foggy would want him to call - that’s what he always says, isn’t it?

Just pick up the phone next time, alright, buddy?

It’s been like that since college. Practically the first thing Foggy had done was program his number into Matt’s battered cell, marking the start of a thousand breakdowns in communication, all involving Matt’s apparent inability to ring his best friend when things start going to shit.

Which is miserably often.

But, Matt makes it to his front door without even taking his phone out of his pocket. He even makes it over the threshold, his cane skidding across the hardwood in the few seconds before he unclenches his hand and lets it fall.

He can feel grime in every one of his pores. It itches, so he rakes his nails over his skin a few times to try and scratch out the parts that are starting to drown him. His clothes are unbearably heavy, the stitches interwoven with traces of everyone who’s bumped into him since he got up this morning, and his ears...they won’t stop ringing.

He doesn't make it any further; he gropes for his phone, and it seems like Foggy picks up before the number's even finished dialling.

Matt opens his mouth. For a second, he thinks he can taste his own heartbeat and almost gags, chest seizing.

Foggy asks something but it's mostly lost in the buzz of the phone battery, and the tinny sound of whatever music's coming from the earphones that he must have just pulled out.

Matt sucks in a breath and concentrates, shutting his eyes just to pretend that it helps.

"Matt? Hey, can you hear me? Is everything alright?"

Matt shakes his head, not because everything's not alright, but just to clear it so that he can answer properly and -

"Use your words, buddy."

"I -" Matt starts, then stops. Then starts again: "I...Foggy."

He's made his way into the kitchen and now he braces himself against one of the counters. His breathing is choppy and his chin is practically touching his chest because keeping his head up only makes the world spin a little bit faster.

"I'm not, I'm not -"

"Hang on," Foggy says. "I'll be at yours in five."

Matt drops the phone with a clatter the moment Foggy hangs up but can still feel the echoes of a vibration, irritating his palm.

He can't believe it's gotten this bad. He can't believe it and his head pounds and his eyes ache from being the only thing providing any kind of relief - the only thing not sensing.

He feels his face begin to crumple in the way it does whenever he's about to cry, and he fights it for a moment, struggling to keep his mouth from trembling. Then, he slams his hand down on the counter so hard that everything in the cutlery drawer jangles, and that is apparently the final straw.